TUKWILA, Wash. — Perhaps no player holds himself to a higher standard than Stefan Frei. The Seattle Sounders veteran constantly looks for ways to improve his game and often speaks of how much he values the feedback he receives from his fellow goalkeepers and goalkeeping coach Tommy Dutra during film sessions.
Frei doesn’t always like what he sees, but he does try to learn from it.
After allowing four goals to the Portland Timbers on Saturday, there was definitely some room for self-reflection.
On at least two of the goals, there was almost nothing Frei could have done. Dairon Asprilla’s equalizing bicycle kick was virtually unstoppable, as was Juan Mosquera’s laser beam to close things out. Frei at least had a chance to stop the other two, though, and one of them he found especially frustrating.
“The one that bothers me the most is the second goal,” Frei said. “That’s more of a technical error, where I’m too deep and he hits it. I’m stiff, left foot forward, I’m unbalanced, I can’t push. Those are all the things I could have controlled better.”
Doubly frustrating about that goal is when it came. Through 70 minutes, the Sounders were in control, led 1-0 and narrowly missed a couple of opportunities to extend their lead. Before the game, Frei had told his travel roommate Alex Roldan that he felt the Timbers’ most important player was their fans. Up until Asprilla’s goal, the Sounders had done a good job of keeping the fans’ involvement relatively muted.
But Frei also anticipated that eventually, something would bring them to life. It was the Sounders’ job to make sure they defused any momentum that might be gained.
“That first goal against the run of play and the fashion it happened not only brought their fans alive, but stung us a little bit,” Frei said. “The second goal is a crucial moment. I mess up and could have done better. It’s one of those moments where if I make that save, milk it and take the fans out of it, then we find our feet again. Instead of that it snowballed and we couldn’t stop the bleeding.”
While Frei could have done better on the third goal as well — the initial shot was hit almost right at him and the Timbers eventually scored off the rebound — he was less self-critical.
“I just didn’t see the ball, completely blinded,” he said. “I think someone torpedoed in a little bit. It went to the outside of him. I was expecting it to come out of the left side and instead, it came outside on the right. I was completely off balance, tried to keep it close and it was shitshow from there.”
Of the seven goals Frei has allowed in eight games — his .87 goals-against average is tied for fourth lowest in MLS — three have come off rebounds. Frei pushed back against the idea that it’s a legitimate pattern.
“I would say the only rebound is the Kansas one where there’s a rebound with technical errors,” he said. “LA it goes through four or five guys, you can’t see it. We look at those things and ask ‘Can we get that rebound away?’ But sometimes it happens that you get the rebound away and it goes straight to a guy.
“What we try to look at with the LA game is can you shoot past the ball on the rebound with your hands so that you’re forcing the ball into your body rather than it beating your hands back and it going into the side netting. I kind of did that on this rebound and it pushed it into the middle. There are technical things we look at when it comes to uncontrollable situations but you just try to do the best you can.”
Regardless of what went wrong, Frei said the key will be not allowing 20 minutes of poor play to unravel what had been 700 minutes of mostly excellent play.
The Sounders get that chance on Saturday against Minnesota United.
“It’s always important to focus on the things you could have done better,” Frei said. “We’re fortunate that we have a schedule that’s Saturday to Saturday because it gives you a chance to disappear for a moment, then revisit it; learn from it for a day or two, maybe add some whiskey to it, but then show up here and move and try to get better, look at your next opponent, figure out what makes them tick, identify their weaknesses and move on.
“We’ve done too many things right to be harping on 20 minutes. You’d be stupid for staying in that 20 minutes and ignoring the other breadth of work. If we can get out of holes quickly — because we know this won’t be our last one — we’re going to have a good season.”